Why do we suffer – or more importantly, how?
COVID-19 cases are quickly rising, meaning more people are sick, and another family has lost a member. We may not know exactly why we suffer, but God’s word tells us how we can endure. This Good Friday, we remember that our Saviour suffered with and for us as we read this Africa Study Bible excerpt from the article, “Suffering—God’s Goodness and God’s Power”:
Suffering is universal. All creation suffers (Romans 8:22). And in our interconnected world, we know about suffering all over the world. If we have compassion for those we see, we suffer with them.
We ask in desperation, “If God is good, why do I suffer? If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he deliver me?” We find it difficult to reconcile the fact of our suffering with our faith in God.
Some Christians teach that followers of Christ should not suffer or get sick. But Christians do get sick. Christ’s redemption on the cross does not mean we will not suffer, but it equips us to face suffering. One day God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:3-7). In our suffering, believers have hope because we know that suffering is brief and our blessings in heaven are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Five Reasons for Suffering
Fallen world: While it is generally true that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, there are times when both the righteous and the wicked suffer (Job 1–2). Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, our relationships with God, each other, and creation have been broken. In this life, we may still go hungry, get sick, grieve, and ultimately die (Romans 8:18-24; Philippians 2:25-28).
Sin: God may punish a person for sinful acts (Numbers 16:1-38; Joshua 7:1-26; Acts 5:1-11; 12:20-25). In both the Old and New Testaments, God allows suffering to come to people because of sinful choices (Jeremiah 2:19). But not all suffering comes from sin. Jesus said that suffering can be for God’s glory (John 9:1-7).
Correction: God is a good parent and wants his children to grow. He sometimes uses suffering to discipline us for our benefit (Hebrews 12:7-13).
Testing: (2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12-14; James 1:1-19). Suffering can build our faith so we can serve God better. Peter declared, “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:10). Through suffering, God moulds us into people who honour his name and bless others.
Persecution: (John 15:18-26; 16:1-3; Acts 14:21-22; 2 Timothy 1:11-12). Following Christ involves suffering and trials. Paul sees suffering for Christ as a privilege: “I want to suffer with him [Christ], sharing in his death” (Philippians 1:29; 3:10).
How to Face Suffering
Although the Bible offers at least five explanations for suffering, it gives no easy answer to why a particular person in a particular situation is suffering. For instance, Joseph suffered because of others’ sin. But although Joseph’s brothers intended to harm him, God intended to accomplish good things through his suffering, including saving the lives of many people (Genesis 50:20). It can be very difficult to discern how God is at work in our misfortune.
Instead of telling us why we suffer, the Bible shows us how to face suffering. The Cross defeats death’s ultimate power over believers. Although suffering is still with us, faith trusts that death will die when God establishes his new creation (Revelation 21:3-4); suffering will finally end when Christ’s victory over sin and death is complete. So how can we face suffering?
First, Christians take courage that Jesus Christ defeated suffering on the cross. God in the person of Jesus Christ suffered and still suffers for us. The cross speaks of God’s presence with us, even in our suffering. The cross reminds us that God will neither fail us nor abandon us. We can therefore courageously face suffering and rise above it,
The church should help absorb our suffering. When we suffer, our brothers and sisters in the church community pray for us and love us. The church community may provide food, money, and other material support. Suffering wounds us, but we can become wounded healers, giving to others the love and care that we received.
Suffering can strengthen or damage character. When we suffer, our character may never be the same again. The result depends on our response. Some people grow bitter in suffering. Others, with the power of the Holy Spirit, grow stronger (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). Suffering gives us an opportunity to show others faith, endurance, and God’s work in our lives.
We Have Hope
Finally, we look forward to the end of suffering in the life to come. We know that God did not intend a suffering world and will not tolerate suffering forever. Therefore, we serve God with joy because we look forward to entering his joy. The apostle Paul suffered much. Yet he said, “The Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work . . . the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:23-24).
In the meantime, we are people of the cross, so we care for the oppressed and stand with our brothers and sisters in Christ as they suffer. The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us life to share with the sick and dying. We weep for others’ suffering because we know others will weep for ours. Because of Jesus, we work for peace in both church and community. Our hope arms us to face strife without fear.
This excerpt is taken from an article of the Africa Study Bible.